Augsburg Confession – Article 11 – Confession

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 10, click here.)

Regarding confession, this is what we teach: Private absolution should be retained in the church and not be allowed to fall out of use. However, it is not necessary to enumerate every misdeed and sin in confession, since such a thing is not possible anyway, as Psalm 191 says, “Who can know his misdeeds?”2

(To continue to Article 12, click here.)


1 Melanchthon cites Psalm 18, according to its reference in the Vulgate. In English Bibles the reference is Psalm 19:12.

2 Just as with the Lord’s Supper, Martin Luther and his followers found it better to speak in a way that invites and encourages people to make use of private confession and absolution regularly, rather than making laws where God’s word has not made them, as Roman Catholic canon law does. For instance, Canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 AD decrees:

All the faithful of both sexes shall after they have reached the age of discretion faithfully confess all their sins at least once a year to their own (parish) priest and perform to the best of their ability the penance (that is, satisfaction) imposed, receiving reverently at least at Easter the sacrament of the Eucharist [Holy Communion], unless perchance at the advice of their own priest they may for a good reason abstain for a time from its reception; otherwise they shall be cut off from the Church (excommunicated) during life and deprived of Christian burial in death.

On the other hand, here is an example of how Luther encouraged the use of private confession and absolution, from a sermon he gave on March 16, 1522:

I refuse to go to confession simply because the pope has commanded it and insists upon it. For I wish him to keep his hands off the confession and not make of it a compulsion or command, which he has not the power to do. Nevertheless I will allow no man to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what comfort and strength it has given me. No one knows what it can do for him except one who has struggled often and long with the devil. Yes, the devil would have slain me long ago, if confession had not sustained me. For there are many doubtful matters which a man cannot resolve or find the answer to by himself, and so he takes his brother aside and tells him his trouble. What harm is there if he humbles himself a little before his neighbor, puts himself to shame, looks for a word of comfort from him, accepts it, and believes it, as if he were hearing it from God himself, as we read in Matthew 18[:19], “If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them.”

Luther does much the same in “A Brief Admonition to Go to Confession” in his Large Catechism, concluding: “If you are a Christian, then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to confession and not let yourself be urged to come; you should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity.”

For proof passages, see first of all Matthew 16:15–19; 18:18–20 (see also 18:1–3 to see whom Jesus is addressing); and John 20:19–23, from which passages it is clear that Jesus has given all Christians the authority to pronounce absolution (which Luther also clearly recognized and taught; see Luther’s Works [American Edition] 40:26–28). Then see also Acts 20:28 and 1 Corinthians 4:1 (where Paul in the context is talking about himself and all other duly called public ministers of the gospel), from which passages it is clear that Jesus has entrusted absolution to duly called public ministers of the gospel in a special, public, and representative way. Finally see Psalm 32:3–5; Proverbs 28:13; and James 5:16; from which passages it is clear that the Holy Spirit encourages us to confess our sins to fellow Christians (and thus especially to our public ministers), especially those sins that are weighing on our conscience.

For more on confession, see Article 25 in the section on abuses.

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the South of the U.S.A.

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